This year I was extremely fortunate to have two lovely University of Waterloo co-op students working with me as student teachers in my grade 11 (functions) and grade 12 (data management) math studies courses (IBDP), one in the fall and one in the winter. I think the best part of having a student teacher to work with, is the ability to constantly debrief each and every lesson in a deep and meaningful way. Some of this debrief is me providing feedback for instructional methods but a significant portion of our debrief is discussing what went well, what didn't and how can we make changes for the next class to improve student learning. Being able to discuss and bounce ideas off of people on a regular basis is so enriching and working with a student teacher provides the ability for constant reflection.
I first came to Cohort 21 with the intention of focusing on building grit in my IBDP chemistry classroom but after day one talking to @rutheichholtz I realized there was a place for my Cohort 21 action plan in the math classroom as well. I'd like to describe the process that myself and my recent University of Waterloo co-op student teacher, Sarah Bunney, undertook this year in the math studies classroom.
Stage 1: Growth mindset in math. In the IBDP program, math studies is often viewed as the DP math course students whose main interests lie outside the field of mathematics would choose to take. This year, our incoming grade 11 group started the year off with a really strong belief and mindset that math just wasn't for them. In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned how I was focusing some class time dedicated to growth mindset in math. This I would like to call stage 1 of my math studies action plan.
Stage 2: Independent inquiry guided lessons. For this, students were given a package of lessons for the unit. The front page of the lessons had titles for each lesson, a place to include the date they completed the lesson, along with the associated homework for that lesson. An example of this is shown below. We chose to do this because we were finding students were missing a lot of classes, often due to sporting events, and when they returned they felt completely overwhelmed and behind in the content bringing students right back to wanting to give up on math. This lesson style did mean students could pick up from where they left off but would be responsible for catching up with the remaining lessons before the time allotted for the unit was completed.
Now, this did have a significant improvement in attitude, behaviour, mindset and motivation in math but also certainly had its flaws. Students had questions, a lot of them, and since students were all at different stages of the lessons, it was difficult for them to help each other. Ms. Bunney and I would spend the entire class circling individuals helping them with their individual problems and before we knew it class would be over. Around March break, Ms. Bunney and I debriefed and felt that while this method was a significant improvement, there were still classes where students' needs were being neglected because we just were not able to help every student individually in the way we had intended. This is when we decided to switch to a group style lesson.
Stage 3: Group inquiry guided lessons. We decided that the best course of action would be to move towards group inquiry-guided lessons. To do this, we separated the class into groups of 2-3, asked students to sit across from one another and go through the lessons as a group. Ms. Bunney and I would each be responsible for helping one-half of the class. We instructed the students that before they could move onto an example on their own, they had to in words describe to their group member what was done in the example listed prior. This really helped us to help them. When they were stuck on an example, I would ask "Could you describe this example to me just as you did to one another?". In almost every scenario, before they could finish describing the example to me, one group member would have an epiphany yelling "I got it! I got it!".
A crucial aspect of Stage 3, especially in the early stages, would be the self-evaluation of group work skills at the end of class. We would ask students to close their eyes and response to the questions with a thumbs up, thumbs down or middle of the road to whether or not the agreed, disagreed with the following statements:
- I listened to the ideas of all of my group members today
- I contributed positively to my group today
- I waited for my group members before moving onto the next question
- I asked questions when I did not understand something
- I helped my group members who needed help today
- My group and I discussed all written examples before moving onto the practice questions
- My group and I stayed on task today
- I enjoyed working with my group
I whispered each of these statements as though it was the peaceful ending of a yoga class laying in savasana. I believe that this brought a calmness for honest reflection. After looking at their responses we modified the groups for each class accordingly. As of today, we have groups the students have been working in for 2+ weeks and things seem in the best place they have been yet for this course. I think there is still more to come, but the students are building confidence in themselves, each other and us as their teachers which are beautiful things to see built from the ground up.
In summary, moving away from teacher directed teaching in math has really changed my math courses. I am really hoping that our group inquiry-guided lessons are a pathway for building grittier students willing to persevere through challenges in math. I think that our success with the group inquiry style lessons would not have been as successful without the individual inquiry style first, so also it had some issues, it served as a really important stepping stone. In the coming weeks, I'm hoping to incorporate more class discussions around multiple solutions in math.